Oregon's Injuries: How They Apply to Stanford

Last year, Stanford was severely beaten up when it played Oregon. This season, the injury tables have turned. The Ducks are so ravaged on the defensive line and in the secondary that RB De'Anthony Thomas is rumored to be a cornerback possibility Saturday. An Oregon expert joins The Bootleg to break down the Ducks' maladies.

Will Butdorf is an expert on all things Oregon football. In this conversation with David Lombardi, he provides The Bootleg with the perspective from the Ducks' camp.

Lombardi: Dion Jordan strikes me as the type of athletic specimen that really makes the Oregon defense tick. He's questionable again this week -- how badly do the Ducks need his presence against Stanford?

Butdorf: As you know, Oregon runs a hybrid defense that most closely resembles a 3-4.  The anchor position in that defense is the strong-side drop-end ("SDE") position, played by Jordan, who is 6-foot-7, 255 pounds, and runs like a wide receiver (which he was recruited to play).  Oregon has used him in a myriad of duties, including pass-rusher, zone coverage, or duties that resemble those of an outside linebacker.  His versatility allows the Ducks to run a lot stunts that cause one side of the O-line to account for him whether he is rushing or not.  Often times, his biggest impact is drawing extra blockers his way and freeing up someone else to get to the quarterback or ball carrier.  I think he would be especially effective against Stanford because he has the speed and athleticism to cover Ertz.

Jordan injured his shoulder a few weeks ago, reinjured it against USC and sat out against Cal.  I get the feeling that it's the type of injury that can be played through, as long as he can handle the pain; it's hard to know for sure, though [Ed: Oregon has a secretive injury disclosure policy].  If he's out, it'll be a big blow to Oregon's D and will cause a lot of worrying.  Jordan's back-up, Tony Washington, is talented but young.  Without Jordan, I think the Ducks will have to put a linebacker or safety on Ertz, which concerns me because I want Oregon's linebackers playing with their eyes forward and not tied up in pass coverage.

Lombardi: What about the health impact of the interior of the Ducks' defensive line? Against Cal, a slew of injuries forced Nick Alioti to play three freshmen there and the Bears had some success on the ground.

Butdorf: Oregon's interior defensive line has been anchored by the now-banged-up rotation of Wade Keliikipi, Ricky Heimuli, and Issac Remington, all of whom are around 6-foot-5, 300 pounds. Their ability to get a pass rush and occupy offensive linemen has been a huge reason the Ducks' defense has been successful against teams that don't have Matt Barkley and Marqise Lee playing their A+ games.  Oregon's defense has been able to rush just the linemen and let its linebackers Michael Clay (Ed: who led Oregon with 11 tackles against Stanford last year), Kiko Alonso, and Boseko Lokombo flow to the play without getting caught up by blockers, all while letting the secondary sit back in coverage.
With those three linemen out, the Ducks struggle to get any push at the line, resulting in many running lanes and plenty of time for a quarterback to find an open receiver.  All three have lower body injuries, and I get the feeling that one or two of them will play.  Of course, the question is not only will they play -- but how well will they be able to play? To complicate matters further, Taylor Hart, Oregon's other DE who has played really well the last two years, injured his lower leg last week against Cal. We'll learn the severity of this setback on Saturday.

Lombardi: Does Oregon have the defensive depth necessary to successfully compensate for these injuries?

Butdorf: Because the Ducks' offense moves so quickly, the team has designed a defense that rotates a ton of guys.  The entire two-deep gets significant playing time on meaningful downs.  As a result, Oregon is able to absorb an injury better than most other teams can, but that doesn't change this fact: five of eight players on the defensive line two deep are hurt, and that's tough for anyone to overcome.

If Oregon can get quality play from two of its defensive tackles and Dion Jordan, I'll feel okay.  Anything less than that and I'll be concerned.  Given the injuries on the defensive line, I wouldn't be surprised to see Oregon stack the box, bring a lot of heat from the linebackers, play man-to-man coverage on the outside, and force Kevin Hogan to beat them through the air.

Lombardi: Well, that can get dicey too -- considering the fact that safety John Boyett is already out for the year (knee surgery) and his back-up Avery Patterson tore his ACL last week. Two back-up cornerbacks were also hurt last week, so obviously Oregon is at a severe disadvantage health-wise. With all the bad fortune covered, are there any breaks actually working in the Ducks' favor?

Butdorf: I think that one big intangible that favors Oregon is the national attention and hype that this game is getting.  I think USC underestimated Stanford and didn't practice hard all week. They were caught off-guard on The Farm. Oregon respects Stanford, knows that it'll have its hands full in light of the injuries, and will be practicing hard all week to come out fired up.  Also, Autzen Stadium at night in November is not the ideal place for a new quarterback make his first road start.  That being said, if none of Oregon's guys return from injury, things can get interesting in a hurry.

But let's not forget, this is the best, most balanced offense that Chip Kelly has ever had, and Stanford is going to have to put up a lot of points to beat them.  Thus, the question becomes: will Oregon's injury situation afford Stanford the opportunity to score with the Ducks for four quarters?

The Bootleg thanks Oregon expert Will Butdorf for his time and in-depth look at the Ducks.

David Lombardi covers Stanford sports for The Bootleg and FOX Sports Next. He can also be heard on San Francisco's 95.7 The Game. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com. Follow him on Twitter: @davidmlombardi.

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